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  #1  
Old 04-13-2016, 02:30 PM
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Zebrano refinishing - w123

Hi all,
I wanted to share some information I have found in the process of refinishing the trim in my '85 300D. I will either update or reply to this post as I make progress.

My car came with a set of matching wood, except for the console piece which is aftermarket and didnt match well. I found a nice matching set from the junkyard that I am restoring.

Preparation-First I scraped off as much foam tape/etc as I could from the wood trim. I was able to pry the aluminum backing plates off of the wood for most of my pieces. I dismantled the center console to remove all of the plastic pieces. My retaining clip was broken and glued in place - I have a good one from the aftermarket piece, so I dremeled as much of the plastic away, and relied on the next step to get rid of the remnants.

Stripping the wood - I bought a metal paint tray and some aluminum foil to work in. I used almost a gallon of acetone to strip the wood finish. I placed all of the pieces in the paint tray, covered them in acetone, then used foil to seal the tray. I did all of this outdoors, using proper safety gear. I put the tray in a large plastic bin and covered it and weighted it down. In my case it took almost two weeks for the finish to soften and come loose. I think using more acetone, and regularly cleaning the chips out would really help speed up the process. Do NOT try to pry loose bits of finish off, let them soften and float away, or you risk tearing up the grain slightly. USE COMMON SENSE. Acetone is scary stuff. Read and follow the instructions, and keep it away from any source of igntion.

Flattening- I do woodworking (primarily with antique tools/hand tools), so I happen to have built alarge wood vice that I used to clamp a few pieces in at a time for a day or two. Since you probably don't, a couple pieces of plywood clamped together will help. (You might consider using some paper towels to keep the plywood from scratching the surface). I wasn't able to get 100% of the curve out of the longer flat pieces, but got them mostly flat - and I think the remaining curvature will be fixed when I reinstall the pieces)

Sanding- I used 2000 grit paper to samd the wood veneer VERY gently. I still burnt through the veneer a tiny bit in a spot or two. Advise skipping this step.

Stain - I used a mix of 4 parts red oak, 4 parts sedoma red, and 5 parts dark walnut. This got me a color that I personally like, which is likely a little lighter than the original color was from the factory. First, pre treat the wood with some pre-stain conditioner according to the instructions. It would be good to make sure the edges of the veneer get a bit of this as well. I then applied one very heavy coat of stain and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. I then wiped off the excess. I found that you need to use a good bit of pressure to wipe the stain off, or it will be prone to severely darkening the grooves in the wood grain.

Finishing - I plan on using spar urethane to provide a tough finish. I am going to be brushing it on, sanding between coats, and finally wet sanding and polishing to get a nice surface.

Pictures and final steps coming soon
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Zebrano refinishing - w123-img_0282.jpeg  

Last edited by Demothen; 04-13-2016 at 02:41 PM.
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Old 04-13-2016, 07:51 PM
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Looks great so far. The folks from Madera Concepts told me that the reason the console wood cracks so much is because MBZ did not well insulate the bottom of the wood and therefore the cracks were caused by heat from the transmission.
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Old 04-14-2016, 07:03 AM
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Looks good but wouldn't it be easier to buy new wood veneer? There are plenty of places online that sell it pretty inexpensively.
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Old 04-14-2016, 08:52 AM
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Not really. I would still need to strip the wood down. And still need to stain and finish it. Plus I would need to do the work of applying and trimming the veneer. (Fun fact, the far left and right pieces on the dash have small slices of veneer missing from the factory to help them curve).
My understanding was that the factory had presses and dies to curve the veneer. I cant imagine doing this at home without a vacuum bag system
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Old 04-15-2016, 04:31 AM
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Vacuum bag systems are not expensive
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Old 04-15-2016, 09:41 AM
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I cant really see why buying veneer, a bag & pump system and glue would make more sense than using what I already have. The set of dash wood I got cost about $20 at the junkyard. I would have needed that either way, since my center console piece is aftermarket and fits poorly (too wide, window switches dont lock into place properly)

Anyway, I have a couple coats of spar varnish on so far. Unfortunately the picture I took was not very well focused. Will edit the original post later to add more information and pictures. This post was intended to be a step by step guide, since most of the techniques I used were scattered across several posts.
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Old 04-15-2016, 03:56 PM
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Here's the finish after 2 coats of spar urethane. I still have several coats to apply, sanding in between. (I've been applying very thin coats and sanding with 600 grit between each coat. I think for the next coat, I'm going to try going a bit thicker).

A tip: when you're using wipe-on finishes (pre-stain, stain, etc) - use high quality towels. I had used some "lint free" cloths that were getting caught in the rough bits of the grain and pulling tiny threads out. These are not something you can see at any reasonable range, but I'd suggest using "staining sponges" - those seem to be less prone to losing threads. I was able to sand most of these threads out very carefully using 600 grit paper.

I've sanded these first few coats without using a block. My goal is not to achieve a perfectly flat surface yet. For now I want to make sure the grain doesn't transfer through the clear, and I want to level any rough spots. Some of the Zebrano veneer almost feels like end-grain, presumably where the grain didn't run exactly parallel to the veneer surface). This sanding is something that's very easy to mess up, take your time and feel the surface frequently. Remember that your finger tips can often feel if a surface is rough, even if your eyes are telling you it looks great.

Between sanding and applying clear coat, I've been using a tack cloth and a can of compressed air to make sure the sanding dust is cleaned off the surface. The spar urethane I am using is a very forgiving material to work with.

Next up I will be adding several more coats of urethane to build a thin layer. I plan on wet sanding that to 2000 grit, then hand polishing and applying wax. (Haven't decided what type of wax, I've heard bowling alley wax is great, but don't really have a source of that).

I doubt I will build up the finish to be as thick as it was originally, I'd like to make it more obvious that this is real wood, instead of looking too much like plastic. That's just my preference, finish this however you want!
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Zebrano refinishing - w123-2-coats-clear.jpeg  
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Old 04-16-2016, 06:28 PM
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I'm not saying what you're doing doesn't make sense, but eventually there will be no decent veneers left in junkyards.

I also am planning on doing an Ebony wood veneer in my 300CE, with a red stain. Just think of all the possibilities.
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Old 04-22-2016, 11:51 AM
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A few more notes:

Originally I was using a 1.5" natural bristle brush from the hardware store. This was making it difficult to get an even coat. I switched to a ~1" natural bristle artists brush (#10 I believe) from the hobby store, and found I was able to get a much better finish.

Don't try to put too much finish on at once. I thought "wet" coats might level out better. This was NOT the case. I ended up with some drips and wavy-ness due to this. I ended up sanding those back with 320 grit, but may have left some scratches in between coats. I'm hoping that as I add more thin coats, I'll be able to fill these scratches in.

Be REALLY careful sanding. If you can manage, don't do any sanding at all beyond scuffing between coats (see: use thin coats). I burnt through the finish in a few spots sanding. Since my trim has a pretty diverse range of colors it's not really noticeable.

Every few coats, it's a good idea to trim the openings for switches. The spar urethane doesn't really harden if it's applied too thickly, so if you have any drips that are "shrinking" the openings where switches need to go, it's pretty easy to trim these off.

I'm really tempted to skip my planned wet sanding and polishing process, so I'll still have a very fine texture to the clear.

BWhitmore- do you have any ideas to insulate the bottom of the console piece? I have a fairly thick layer of insulation over the transmission from the factory. I was thinking about lining the back of the console trim with some aluminum foil tape to try to reflect some of the heat back away from the wood. Without some airflow, there's really always going to be a buildup of heat though.
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Old 04-22-2016, 12:02 PM
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The only product I can think of for insulation is a product called Dynamat(?).
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Old 04-22-2016, 03:09 PM
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Hmm, I should have used some of that before I put the console back in. Oh well, chances are it will last longer than I have the car by a few decades as-is
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Old 05-06-2016, 03:19 PM
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Here's the final results. I realize that this is not a very accurate match to the original trim color, but it suits my preferences.

After applying 8 or so coats of spar urethane, sanding between each coat with 800 grit, I moved on to wet sanding. I used roughly 1" squares of paper to sand this. Starting at 1200 grit, I worked my way up through 1500, 2000, 2500, and 3000 grits, cleaning the surface between each grit, and using a spray bottle of water to help keep the paper from clogging. This took about 5 hours of work.

I polished using 4 compounds with a microfiber cloth for each grit. The first compound was a rough cutting compound and I worked up to an "optical clear" polish. This took another 3 hours or so.

Finally, I used some high grade automotive wax, again with a microfiber cloth. I've heard bowling alley wax is a better option, but I don't have any of that.

Once the trim was polished, I started worrying about re-attaching all of the pieces to their aluminum backing. With the exception of the console piece and the ash tray, every part needs to be backed with the aluminum piece it originally held. (Some of your pieces might still be glued down, but all of mine were separated). I used 3M's adhesive foam tape, designed for exterior usage. To start, line each piece of aluminum completely with tape, but leave the backing material on. Use a sharp xacto to trim the tape back flush to any openings. For the 4 pieces with retaining tabs, if you have a matching set of wood trim, you should be able to line up the woodgrain so that it matches all the way across the car. I'd suggest installing the aluminum pieces to the dash (but without bending the tabs in place yet), peeling the tape covering, then attaching the wood to the tape in place. This will help make sure that you have the pieces lined up correctly. Then you can pull each piece out, place them on a soft towel, and clamp them gently to your workbench to adhere the tape permanently. For the switch bezel, I re-installed two switches into the wood, then attached the aluminum. This let me make sure that the aluminum and wood lined up correctly.

You can then re-install everything and twist the tabs again.

I used the same adhesive tape to re-attach the plastic piece that holds the shifter boot from the bottom side, though I might need to change that since it's made installing the boot difficult.

If I were to do this again, I would probably buy a small detailing paint sprayer, or even use rattle-can spar urethane. Sanding out the brush marks took a long time, especially on the more detailed pieces. I burnt through the clear in a couple of tiny places, even though I was being extremely careful. I'm not 100% satisfied with the finish I ended up with when looking at it up close, but once installed into the car the tiny imperfections are much less noticeable.
Attached Thumbnails
Zebrano refinishing - w123-img_0334.jpeg   Zebrano refinishing - w123-img_0338.jpeg   Zebrano refinishing - w123-img_0341.jpeg   Zebrano refinishing - w123-img_0360.jpeg  
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Old 05-06-2016, 10:08 PM
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Looks good, you did a great job. Considering the cost that Madera Concepts charges for the same work you saved a big bundle of cash
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Old 08-08-2017, 09:54 AM
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That's all fairly magnificent. No, it's just magnificent.
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